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The Deferral Process

What it is, why to do it, and how to make it happen.

Ready to do a gap year? Here's how you can defer from college.

More and more graduating high school students are deciding not to go straight into college, but to invest instead in their own personal development with a year of travel, language-learning, cultural exchange, and professional experience. The benefits can be enormous.

Not only are these experiences beneficial for students, but they are also beneficial for colleges. Students who take a gap year gain skills that help build a better college community. During their gap year, students become more self-motivated, self-aware, creative, adaptable, and open-minded. Top colleges across the country are working to help make students’ gap year experiences possible, because they know gap year students will be leaders and important members of their campus communities.

Almost all colleges have in place systems and policies that allow students to defer their enrollment at the college before beginning their first year. This process – called “deferral” -- varies slightly from school to school, but it involves a few easy steps that allow you to have your space ready and waiting for you when you return from your gap year!

The general timeline is as follows:

  1. Apply to colleges
  2. Receive acceptances from colleges
  3. Decide where you want to go
  4. Submit your deposit
  5. Submit required documents to your college (letter, deferral application, or request)
  6. Receive approval for your gap year
  7. Go on your gap year
  8. Enroll in your college the following fall!

Frequently Asked Questions

Does every college let students defer enrollment for a year?

The vast majority of colleges in the U.S. allow students to defer enrollment for one or two years to pursue travel, work, or education experiences!

Who at my university do I contact about deferring?

Your admissions officer at your college is your best resource for questions about deferring. You may need to submit a letter directly to them, or they can point you in the right direction to another university employee or office.

When do I need to let my college know I’m deferring?

Deadlines vary from college to college. Some schools evaluate gap year requests on a rolling basis, but others have deadlines that range between May 1 and August 1 for students who are accepted to matriculate in the fall. A good piece of advice for everyone is “the sooner the better”! This is great for both you and for the school – you will have more time to prepare for your gap year, and your school will have more time to process your request

What supporting documents do I need to show my college?

Many colleges require students to write a letter of intent or fill out a short application to let the college know what you are planning to do on your gap year. The Gap Year Association has a great resource on how to write this deferral letter. Some colleges also require you to fill out a quick application that gives the details of the planned year.

Does my financial aid and scholarship package carry over if I defer?

This varies from college to college, but most colleges allow you to carry over merit scholarship offers. For federal financial aid, you will usually have to fill out the FAFSA again the following year, but if your family’s situation remains pretty much the same, your financial aid package should also remain similar.

Can I apply to other schools during my gap year if I have deferred enrollment?

Colleges see deferral as a firm commitment. This means that you are not allowed to apply to other colleges during your gap year if you have deferred enrollment. Instead of deferring enrollment if you are unsure where you want to go to college, you can use your time during your gap year to explore your college options and work on your applications.

Do colleges like it when students take a gap year?

YES! Some of the top colleges in the country specifically encourage students to take a gap year because they know that having students take a gap year helps students reach their full potential. Deferring enrollment gives you peace of mind as a student because you know where you’ll be headed after your gap year.

Where can I find more information about the deferral process?

The Gap Year Association is a great resource for students considering a gap year. They have a helpful guide to specific universities’ deferral policies that can be found here.

At EF Gap, we are also a resource for you and can help walk you through the deferral process.

You can also check out this video: From Gap to College Webinar: Strategies, Steps, and Secrets for Success.

Have more questions? Click here to get in touch with one of our EF Gap Year Advisors.